Not pitch perfect but Rebels deserve win

ISN’T it very easy to be a hurler on the ditch?

In matches at any level, the fella up in the stand or on the grassy bank can be very critical of the standard of hurling, shouting abuse at the player who fails to make a clean pick-up, or who is beaten by the ball coming at him.

When you get a game at this level then, those fans are even more demanding, even more critical, and probably even more numerous.

And maybe they have a right to be critical too; certainly, when Cork meet Kilkenny in round three of the National Hurling League, a month into the season, they have a right to expect higher standards.

In this column I would have been one of those critics. Almost from the first minute this match was error-ridden, mistakes made that you wouldn’t expect to see at a junior B game, and that carried through to the end. Within a few minutes of the finish, however, I understood why.

After the match I took a walk down to the pitch for a look – it was atrocious. I’ve been coming to Cork a long time and I’ve made no secret that this is a city and a county I really enjoy – I would say that Cork is the only ‘country’ city in Ireland, if you know what I mean, a real rural feel to it.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh too I’ve always admired, a great stadium for atmosphere, a fine pitch. Never have I seen it as bad as it was yesterday, however.

In common with probably every field in the country, it is suffering from the freakish weather we’ve been having for the past few weeks. Severe frost, no growth, there’s nothing can be done about it – Mother Nature takes its own course and every ground in the country is under pressure.

With that in mind, we must make allowances for the many mistakes made yesterday – we saw more throw-ins in this game than we saw in Croke Park in the rugby international on Saturday, and that says it all.

To the game. Cork started very well, Patrick Horgan getting good ball up to his corner on the left and using it well. Then, for some reason best known to themselves, Cork seemed to change their tactic and they were feeding big Aisake O hAilpín at full-forward, often putting the ball to the right corner for him to run onto.

Why? From there to the end Horgan was starved of possession, ended up being taken off. Aisake, meanwhile continued to be fed but he was almost completely ineffective.

The same could apply to Mark O’Sullivan at centre-forward for Cork; great man to get on the ball, great man to win possession, but far too slow and ponderous in his use of that possession.

My advice to those two guys is to sleep with that hurley, to have it with them 24 hours a day until such time as it becomes an extension of their hands. Because of their ball-winning ability, because they’re such hard and willing workers, they are worth persevering with by Denis Walsh, but they have to improve their skills. As was the case last week in the loss to Tipperary, the Kilkenny defence was outstanding yesterday, had a big say in keeping the reigning All-Ireland champions in the game right to the end.

CORK deserved their win, let that besaid, and could even have won bymore; they had the majority of the possession, especially in the second-half with the extra man (Michael Grace very unlucky to be the one singled out for a red card, for a thing of nothing), but Kilkenny were far more efficient with their use of the ball.

John Mulhall especially caught the eye, but Richie Power also caused all sorts of problems, Eoin Larkin occasionally, but he has yet to come anywhere near full fitness. And yet, contradictory as this sounds, Cork might also have lost, were it not for the contribution of one man.

John Gardiner has played many an outstanding match for Cork, but yesterday’s performance could rank with any. It wasn’t just his long-range free-taking, nor his two superb points from play, it was his overall leadership – this was a game they were just not going to lose.

On the other hand, mention of Cork heroes, rarely have I seen Ben O’Connor as ineffective, which begs the question – is it the long season Ben has had taking its toll, or is this just another case of Mother Nature taking her own toll?

He’s been on the road a long time, has Ben, with club and county, given outstanding service with barely a break in over a dozen seasons – is it catching up?

Have to wrap, but praise before I finish for the Cork sideline, the two subs they brought on. Jerry O’Connor (Ben’s twin, I know, but hasn’t been on the inter-county scene for as long) and Paudie O’Sullivan had a major impact, and what skill by Paudie for that final point.

Aisake and Mark, take note.

Final words – we know Kilkenny will improve, but will Cork?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

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